I am a Christian feminist learning to embrace domestic work as part of my job. Right away, I can picture two courts of opinion: some women might praise me for making this choice independently, while others might scoff at my willingness to remain in the 1950s. However, this was not a decision that came easily to me. As someone who has always been ambitious and career-minded, accepting this ‘position’ is still a daily struggle.
Growing up, I remember feeling shocked when I learned that, in most of my friends’ houses, their mothers did all the cooking. I remember their equally shocked expressions when they learned that my mother absolutely could not cook – in the thirty-four years she was married to my father, the kitchen was his domain. You could say I had a “reversed” notion of gender roles growing up.
By the time I got over the notion of feminism equaling a hatred of men, bra-burning, and no shaving, I was in my mid-twenties. My involvement in a college ministry introduced me to women who were fulfilled in their roles as stay-at-home mothers, often never putting their college degrees to use in the professional world. Some believed this was the ideal calling for Christian women everywhere: the man provided financially while the woman took care of the house.
This stood starkly in contrast with the arrangement I grew up with, where both my parents worked outside the home. When my father, a trade show manager, was diagnosed with cancer, my mother’s ability to work went from being a personal choice to a necessity. When Dad was forced to retire early, it was Mom who became the breadwinner. At that point, whatever pride was lost in having the woman become the sole provider no longer mattered; having food on the table and bills paid mattered.
When life revealed plans that trumped our own, gender roles became irrelevant – not that they ever mattered much in my home to begin with. My parents’ marriage was sustained by their unique talents and abilities: Dad enjoyed cooking, and Mom did not. Mom understood which clothes could be washed together, and which ones had to be washed separately; Dad did not. There was indisputable harmony in their ability to compromise and make necessary sacrifices.
I started losing patience with the borderline patriarchal views of women and gender roles. It was hard not to be offended by the thought of someone in my church calling my family’s arrangement “sinful.” So I embraced feminism, and left complementarian Christianity behind (though not Christianity itself).
Learning to embrace feminism made it hard not to admire my mother: she was a powerhouse blend of dedication, sensitivity, and ambition, simultaneously earning a PhD while teaching graduate-level classes in nursing full time. When my father eventually succumbed to the cancer, she was not financially despondent. While not all women choose to have careers, my family’s situation illustrated the need to have professional abilities on the backburner, should the unthinkable happen.
My own marital situation is quite different. The gifts that I possess – book writing, blogging, and editing – are not exactly moneymakers in this economy. Simply put, if not for my husband’s full-time job as a physician assistant, there is no way I could provide for myself with my own earnings. I am far from the “professional powerhouse” my mother is, and I confess: I feel a slight amount of shame in that. I support the choice of other wives to stay home cooking and cleaning, but me? No way. Not my life plan.
I was “supposed” to work in publishing, maybe even do some book tours. That could still happen some day, but any rate, it’s not happening yet.
My husband’s background could not be more different than my own. I was raised by liberal, secular Jewish parents, and he was raised in a conservative, evangelical culture. He cannot recall exactly when he decided to become a Christian, since he was quite young. On the surface, it would seem that the two of us together would be a combustive mix; he had the same stereotypical views of feminism that I once did, and up until recently was convinced he couldn’t be a feminist because he is male. Despite the occasional crack about having “hippie” leanings, I am fortunate to have partnered with someone who is supportive of my endeavors, even if he doesn’t quite understand the motives behind them.
So while Josh assists in surgeries, I am working on writing from our two-bedroom apartment. In between chapter edits, I do laundry, run the dishwasher, and vacuum. This is not the situation I dreamed about, but it’s reality, and I am learning to embrace it. The fact of the matter is, these household chores need to be done at some point, and after working up to fourteen hours a day, Joshua is exhausted when he finally comes home. It’s not because my “wifely duty” demands I have dinner warming in the oven when he returns, but rather, it’s an act of love. And it really does warm my heart when he tells me, “Dinner was great, Hon. Thank you.”
I may not be following exactly in my mother’s footsteps, but following the example of my parents’ marriage, ours is also considered a partnership. It is easier for me to embrace housewifery knowing that if our roles were reversed, and I were the one making our money, Josh would support me and contribute the same way I am now. This is the arrangement that works for us, and it doesn’t have to be a one-size-fits-all model, nor is it set in stone. There is no telling what the future might bring, and if one day our roles might reverse. Submission, for us, is using our time and our gifts to serve the other. We have learned to be each other’s helpmates.